Saturday, October 18, 2008

Authors@Google: Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd

Google has an amazing series of speakers -- what a place to work!

Authors@Google: Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd

The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life

Your every significant choice -- every important decision you make -- is determined by a force operating deep inside your mind: your perspective on time -- your internal, personal time zone. This is the most influential force in your life, yet you are virtually unaware of it. Once you become aware of your personal time zone, you can begin to see and manage your life in exciting new ways.

In The Time Paradox, Drs. Zimbardo and Boyd draw on thirty years of pioneering research to reveal, for the first time, how your individual time perspective shapes your life and is shaped by the world around you. Further, they demonstrate that your and every other individual's time zones interact to create national cultures, economics, and personal destinies.

Philip Zimbardo is professor emeritus of psychology at Stanford University and has also taught at Yale University, New York University, and Columbia University. His informative website,, is visited by millions every year. Visit the author's personal website at

This event took place on October 3, 2008

Being Altruistic May Make You Attractive

Cool article from Science Daily on the new research, but if you are thinking that being altruistic makes you more attractive, does it then cease to be altruism?

Being Altruistic May Make You Attractive

ScienceDaily (Oct. 15, 2008) — Displays of altruism or selflessness towards others can be sexually attractive in a mate. This is one of the findings of a study carried out by biologists and a psychologist at The University of Nottingham.

In three studies of more than 1,000 people, Dr Tim Phillips and his fellow researchers discovered that women place significantly greater importance on altruistic traits than anything else. Their findings have been published in the British Journal of Psychology.

Dr Phillips said: “Evolutionary theory predicts competition between individuals and yet we see many examples in nature of individuals disadvantaging themselves to help others. In humans, particularly, we see individuals prepared to put themselves at considerable risk to help individuals they do not know for no obvious reward.”

Participants in the studies were questioned about a range of qualities they look for in a mate, including examples of altruistic behaviour such as ‘donates blood regularly’ and ‘volunteered to help out in a local hospital’. Women placed significantly greater importance on altruistic traits in all three studies.

Yet both sexes may consider altruistic traits when choosing a partner. One hundred and seventy couples were asked to rate how much they preferred altruistic traits in a mate and report their own level of altruistic behaviour. The strength of preference in one partner was found to correlate with the extent of altruistic behaviour typically displayed in the other, suggesting that altruistic traits may well be a factor both men and women take into account when choosing a partner.

Dr Phillips said: “For many years the standard explanation for altruistic behaviour towards non-relatives has been based on reciprocity and reputation — a version of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’. I believe we need to look elsewhere to understand the roots of human altruism. The expansion of the human brain would have greatly increased the cost of raising children so it would have been important for our ancestors to choose mates both willing and able to be good, long-term parents. Displays of altruism could well have provided accurate clues to this and genes linked to altruism would have been favoured as a result.”

Dr Phillips concluded: “Sexual selection could well come to be seen as exerting a major influence on what made humans human.”

Dr Tom Reader in the School of Biology said: “Sexual preferences have enormous potential to shape the evolution of animal behaviour. Humans are clearly not an exception: sex may have a crucial role in explaining what are our most biologically interesting and unusual habits.”

Adapted from materials provided by University of Nottingham.

TED Talks - Dr. Dean Ornish: Healing and Other Natural Wonders

Another great TED Talk, this one featuring Dean Ornish, who I often disagree with, but always find interesting and worth listening to (or reading).
Dean Ornish talks about simple, low-tech and low-cost ways to take advantage of the body's natural desire to heal itself.

Dr. Ornish wants you to live longer, and have more fun while you’re at it. He's one of the leading voices in the medical community promoting a balanced, holistic approach to health, and proving that it works. The author of Eat More, Weigh Less and several other best-selling books, Ornish is best known for his lifestyle-based approach to fighting heart disease.

His research at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute (the nonprofit he founded) clinically demonstrated that cardiovascular illnesses -- and, most recently prostate cancer -- can be treated and even reversed through diet and exercise. These findings (once thought to be physiologically implausible) have been widely chronicled in the US media, including Newsweek, for which Ornish writes a column. The fifty-something physician, who's received many honors and awards, was chosen by LIFE Magazine as one of the most influential members of his generation. Among his many pursuits, Ornish is now working with food corporations to help stop America's obesity pandemic from spreading around the globe.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Chicago Tribune Endorsement - Barack Obama for President

First time EVER - the Chicago Tribune endorses a democrat. WOW!
In recent weeks it has been easy to lose sight of this history in the making. Americans are focused on the greatest threat to the world economic system in 80 years. They feel a personal vulnerability the likes of which they haven't experienced since Sept. 11, 2001. It's a different kind of vulnerability. Unlike Sept. 11, the economic threat hasn't forged a common bond in this nation. It has fed anger, fear and mistrust.

On Nov. 4 we're going to elect a president to lead us through a perilous time and restore in us a common sense of national purpose.

The strongest candidate to do that is Sen. Barack Obama. The Tribune is proud to endorse him today for president of the United States.
Read the whole article.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Freedom

Cool interview, from the Psychology Today blogs. She's an inspiring figure in a world where beliefs can get you sentenced to death.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Freedom

For the October 2008 issue of Psychology Today, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the world's preeminent Muslim anti-Islamist.

Born into a strict Muslim tribe in Somalia, Ayaan Hirsi Ali fled to the Netherlands to avoid a forced marriage and was eventually elected to parliament. After she made a film condemning Islamic radicalism, her coproducer Theo Van Gogh was murdered—and the killer left a note on the body warning Ali she was next. She now lives in hiding, but remains a major critic of radical Islam.

During the course of the interview, we discussed her feminism, her loss of faith in Islam after 9/11, and the murder of her friend Theo Van Gogh. She also spoke candidly about survivor's guilt, what it's like to live in hiding, and how it feels to be hated. Below is a more complete version of the interview that appears in the magazine. —Jay Dixit

The Interview

How did your traumatic early experiences affect how you look at the world?
I had no idea they were traumatic. Everyone around me was circumcised. We were all beaten. Arranged forced marriage is the Somali tribal culture and tradition. I knew no better. I had not acquired the ability to stand outside the community and judge the community and my place within it. Like everyone else within a group culture, I just did what comes automatically, which is just to survive.

How does it feel to go from that to having so much more freedom now?
When I first came to the Netherlands, once a month you have to write down how much you spend on what, what is my income. The assumption is that you’re going to have an income every month over and over again! And that you save and you get insurance, and you think of your life 10, 20, 30 years ahead. People from the third world, we just live with the day, in the present. So I find living in freedom becomes very challenging, to map out a life of what do I want to do, when, how.

In a way, it’s easier if you’re just told what to do. When I was growing up, no one ever expected me to get an income and divide it up in pieces. You are not consulted as to whom you want to marry. You’re handed over to your husband, and he tells you what to do. Now I have to decide everything myself. I have to make my own choices.

This is why when some of the Muslim women send me letters they say life in America or Europe is much more difficult than when they were with their family. And I understand why—because when you are in a constrained situation, you think, "If only I could get out." You don’t think about once you get out what you’re going to do, and how you’re going to cope.

When my sister came to Netherlands and there was nothing to rebel against, she cracked. She couldn’t deal with the situation of freedom.

How does it feel to live in hiding?
For people from a clan society, survival as a way of life comes naturally. When it gets predictable, that’s when questions pop up, like how do I do this, where do I start? I’ve learned to suppress my emotions.

Are you afraid for your life?
Yes. But it’s getting less and less. If I give into the fear, then they get what they want, which is to frighten in you into not speaking out, into keeping quiet.

Read the whole interview.

8 Fixes Nutritionists Want on Food Labels

From the US News and World Report health site. All these are good ideas that would help my clients better be able to figure out what the hell they are eating. I have some thoughts below the article.

8 Fixes Nutritionists Want on Food Labels

October 17, 2008 10:25 AM ET | Katherine Hobson

Starting in December, packages of M&M's and Skittles will have a new nutrition stamp that will show in simpler terms the percentage of daily recommended fat, salt, sugar, fat, and saturated fat levels each serving contains. It got me thinking about other potentially helpful changes to food labels, especially after reading in the latest New York Times Magazine that Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, thinks labels ought to include how much fossil fuel energy went into the food's production.

So I contacted nutritionists, dietitians, and nutrition scientists and asked them to brainstorm what they'd like to add, subtract, or change on food nutrition labels. Here are some of their ideas:

• Make serving sizes realistic. These can be misleading if they don't reflect actual habits. Christopher Gardner, a nutrition scientist at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, suggests that if the package were given to 100 people, the serving size should reflect what the average person actually ate. And use ounces and cups rather than grams, adds Heather Bauer, founder of Nu-Train, a nutrition counseling center in New York City and author of The Wall Street Diet.

• Better explain the percentage daily value (DV). Make clear whether the recommended percentage for a nutrient is a ceiling or a floor, Gardner says. For example, if a food has 30 percent of the recommended DV of saturated fat, you don't need to eat more at another meal to get up to the 100 percent level; that DV is a maximum recommendation. For vitamins and minerals, the recommended daily value is a minimum, which means you'll need to get the whole amount somewhere. In addition, those recommendations are based on a 2,000-calorie diet for adults, which may be too much for people trying to lose weight and doesn't apply to kids, says Sari Greaves, a dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

• Give a percentage daily value for sugar. Right now there is no ceiling for recommended sugar consumption. There should be, says Gardner. He and Jayne Hurley, senior nutritionist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, also recommend that the total sugar content should be subdivided into added sugars, from sources like cane juice and high-fructose corn syrup, and naturally occurring sugars, from whole foods like fruit and milk.

• Require that caffeine content be listed. It's found in products you may not expect, like coffee ice cream. And many people are sensitive to even small amounts, says Tara Gidus, a nutrition performance coach and ADA spokesperson. For the same reason, the amount of artificial sweeteners should be listed, she says.

• Give more information about whole grains. The amount of whole grains in a product can be difficult to figure out, Hurley and Gidus say. They recommended the amount in grams and percentage of the food be added. Same with fruit, says Hurley: If a product's name mentions fruit, its label should tell exactly how much is really fruit.

• Include a list of healthy pairings with the product. On a cereal label, pairings could include skim milk, berries, flax seeds, and the like, says Bauer.

• Explain where the food came from. On her blog, Arlene Birt, visual storyteller for media and marketing firm Haberman & Associates, gives examples of packaging that explains a product's origins. A chocolate bar wrapper, for example, could have a short, visually compelling story showing where the ingredients came from, how and by whom it was made, and how it got to the store.

• Make it simple with color-coding or scores. As some grocery stores are doing, food labels could include a numerical score, red/yellow/green designation, or a star rating system to indicate whether the food has more or fewer healthy characteristics (high in fiber, lower in sugar, high in omega-3s, etc.), says Gardner. That same rating system could be expanded to include other criteria, such as sustainability, growing practices, or carbon footprints, he says.

I would add that any whole wheat product (breads especially) that want to call themselves "whole wheat" be required to contain at least four grams of fiber per serving. Too many breads say they are whole wheat and have no fiber or only one gram per serving. Nothing whole about that.

And here's another: any product that does not contain a whole protein (all eight of the essential amino acids) be required to label itself as a partial protein (I'm thinking peanut butter here -- too many people think of peanut butter as a protein instead of a fat).

Since I'm on a rant, I'd also like to see polyunsaturated fats broken down to omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 quantities. People with auto-immune disorders should avoid omega-6 fats and get more omega-3 and omega-9 fats -- making this easier would be useful, especially as the rate of autoimmune disorders continues to climb.

I could go on, but I wonder if readers have anything they would like to see changed?

2009 TED Prize Winners

This year's TED Prize winners have been announced, yesterday I believe.

Announcing the 2009 TED Prize winners: oceanographer Sylvia Earle, SETI's Jill Tarter, maestro José Antonio Abreu

TED and the TED Prize are proud to unveil the three remarkable winners of the 2009 TED Prize: deep-ocean explorer Sylvia Earle, astronomer Jill Tarter, and Maestro José Antonio Abreu. Each of them is a leader in his/her chosen field of work, with an unconventional viewpoint and a vision to transform the world.

Their lives and their words are inspiring.

Sylvia Earle, called “Her Deepness” by the New Yorker and the New York Times, “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress, and “Hero for the Planet” by Time, is an oceanographer, explorer, author, and lecturer with a deep commitment to research through personal exploration.

“We've got to somehow stabilize our connection to nature so that in 50 years from now, 500 years, 5,000 years from now there will still be a wild system and respect for what it takes to sustain us."

Jill Tarter, director of the SETI Institute’s Center for SETI Research and holder of the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI. She has devoted her career to hunting for signs of sentient beings elsewhere, and almost all aspects of this field have been affected by her work.

" 'Are we alone?' Humans have been asking [this question] forever. The probability of success is difficult to estimate but if we never search the chance of success is zero."

José Abreu, a retired economist, trained musician, and social reformer founded El Sistema (“the system”) in 1975 based on the conviction that what poor Venezuelan kids needed was classical music. After 30 years and 10 different political administrations, El Sistema is now a nationwide organization of 102 youth orchestras, 55 children’s orchestras and 270 music centers.

"Music has to be recognized as an ... agent of social development in the highest sense, because it transmits the highest values -- solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion. And it has the ability to unite an entire community and to express sublime feelings."

Learn more about them here.

Each wins $100,000 plus "One Wish to Change the World." Their wishes will be unveiled at TED2009 on February 5, 2009.

The Neuroscience of Emotions

A very cool Google Tech Talk. This is long (slightly over an hour), but it's very interesting stuff, especially if you have any interest in psychology and neuroscience. This is part of the "Search Inside Yourself" course offered at Google (for employees), which they hope to offer more widely in the future.
Google Tech Talks
September 16, 2008


The ability to recognize and work with different emotions is fundamental to psychological flexibility and well-being. Neuroscience has contributed to the understanding of the neural bases of emotion, emotion regulation, and emotional intelligence, and has begun to elucidate the brain mechanisms involved in emotion processing. Of great interest is the degree to which these mechanisms demonstrate neuroplasticity in both anatomical and functional levels of the brain.

Speaker: Dr. Phillippe Goldin

David Brooks on Obama's Equanimity

Hat tip to Bodhipaksa for pointing me to this article -- I had missed it this morning. It seems as though Brooks has returned to his early infatuation with Obama. It's nice to see a conservative write in praise of a liberal.

Thinking About Obama

Published: October 16, 2008

We’ve been watching Barack Obama for two years now, and in all that time there hasn’t been a moment in which he has publicly lost his self-control. This has been a period of tumult, combat, exhaustion and crisis. And yet there hasn’t been a moment when he has displayed rage, resentment, fear, anxiety, bitterness, tears, ecstasy, self-pity or impulsiveness.

Some candidates are motivated by something they lack. For L.B.J., it was respect. For Bill Clinton, it was adoration. These politicians are motivated to fill that void. Their challenge once in office is self-regulation. How will they control the demons, insecurities and longings that fired their ambitions?

But other candidates are propelled by what some psychologists call self-efficacy, the placid assumption that they can handle whatever the future throws at them. Candidates in this mold, most heroically F.D.R. and Ronald Reagan, are driven upward by a desire to realize some capacity in their nature. They rise with an unshakable serenity that is inexplicable to their critics and infuriating to their foes.

Obama has the biography of the first group but the personality of the second. He grew up with an absent father and a peripatetic mother. “I learned long ago to distrust my childhood,” he wrote in “Dreams From My Father.” This is supposed to produce a politician with gaping personal needs and hidden wounds.

But over the past two years, Obama has never shown evidence of that. Instead, he has shown the same untroubled self-confidence day after day.

There has never been a moment when, at least in public, he seems gripped by inner turmoil. It’s not willpower or self-discipline he shows as much as an organized unconscious. Through some deep, bottom-up process, he has developed strategies for equanimity, and now he’s become a homeostasis machine.

When Bob Schieffer asked him tough questions during the debate Wednesday night, he would step back and describe the broader situation. When John McCain would hit him with some critique — even about fetuses being left to die on a table — he would smile in amusement at the political game they were playing. At every challenging moment, his instinct was to self-remove and establish an observer’s perspective.

Through the debate, he was reassuring and self-composed. McCain, an experienced old hand, would blink furiously over the tension of the moment, but Obama didn’t reveal even unconscious signs of nervousness. There was no hint of an unwanted feeling.

They say we are products of our environments, but Obama, the sojourner, seems to go through various situations without being overly touched by them. Over the past two years, he has been the subject of nearly unparalleled public worship, but far from getting drunk on it, he has become less grandiloquent as the campaign has gone along.

When Bill Clinton campaigned, he tried to seduce his audiences. But at Obama rallies, the candidate is the wooed not the wooer. He doesn’t seem to need the audience’s love. But they need his. The audiences hunger for his affection, while he is calm, appreciative and didactic.

He doesn’t have F.D.R.’s joyful nature or Reagan’s happy outlook, but he is analytical. That’s why this William Ayers business doesn’t stick. He may be liberal, but he is never wild. His family is bourgeois. His instinct is to flee the revolutionary gesture in favor of the six-point plan.

This was not evident back in the “fierce urgency of now” days, but it is now. And it is easy to sketch out a scenario in which he could be a great president. He would be untroubled by self-destructive demons or indiscipline. With that cool manner, he would see reality unfiltered. He could gather — already has gathered — some of the smartest minds in public policy, and, untroubled by intellectual insecurity, he could give them free rein. Though he is young, it is easy to imagine him at the cabinet table, leading a subtle discussion of some long-term problem.

Of course, it’s also easy to imagine a scenario in which he is not an island of rationality in a sea of tumult, but simply an island. New presidents are often amazed by how much they are disobeyed, by how often passive-aggressiveness frustrates their plans.

It could be that Obama will be an observer, not a leader. Rather than throwing himself passionately into his causes, he will stand back. Congressional leaders, put off by his supposed intellectual superiority, will just go their own way. Lost in his own nuance, he will be passive and ineffectual. Lack of passion will produce lack of courage. The Obama greatness will give way to the Obama anti-climax.

We can each guess how the story ends. But over the past two years, Obama has clearly worn well with voters. Far from a celebrity fad, he is self-contained, self-controlled and maybe even a little dull.

SNL Thursday Night Political Skits

Videos below....Starting with the debate parody.

Update: Crazy McCain Lady/ We Liked It
Update Thursday: Jesse Jackson

Daniel Goleman - Flame Out (Mail Goggles)

This was posted over at Daniel Goleman's blog Tuesday. This new feature in Google Mail is already well-known, but it's interesting to see the take of an expert in emotional intelligence. He has a unique understanding on why this is a very fluffy feature.

Flame Out

Written on October 14, 2008 – 6:00 am | by Daniel Goleman |

At last there’s a way to cool down before we flame online; those folks at Google have come up with a remedy for emotional hijacks at the keyboard.

A “flame” occurs when we’re a bit agitated – frustrated, anxious, jealous, emotionally desperate – and compose an email, hit “Send” … and regret having sent it.

This happens particularly often online, as I’ve explained in Social Intelligence, because the brain circuitry that kicks in to keep us from embarrassing ourselves while face-to-face on the phone with someone gets no signals online. The result has been called the “disinhibition” effect; what gets disinhibited is our emotional impulses.

The Google software helps by getting us to switch from the hot-tempered amygdala to our cool neocortex before we hit send. It’s a neat little device that requires you do about 45 seconds of math problems before the “send” button will operate. Called “Mail Goggles,” the software operates only late at night and on weekends, when we presumably are most predisposed to sending regrettable messages in the heat of the moment.

As Jon Perlow, the software engineer who developed Goggles explains: “Sometimes I send messages I shouldn’t send. Like the time I told that girl I had a crush on her over text message. Or the time I sent that late night email to my ex-girlfriend that we should get back together. Gmail can’t always prevent you from sending messages you might later regret, but today we’re launching a new Labs feature I wrote called Mail Goggles which may help.

“When you enable Mail Goggles, it will check that you’re really sure you want to send that late night Friday email. And what better way to check than by making you solve a few simple math problems after you click send to verify you’re in the right state of mind?”

To check out this virtual emotional intelligence enhancer:

Jürgen Habermas - Notes on Post-Secular Society

Jürgen Habermas is certainly not well-liked among the anti-postmodernists, but that doesn't seem to impact him at all over in Europe. He continues to be a provocative and influential thinker in European discourse. And I think he has a lot to offer those of us on this side of the pond, as well, even though we are a couple of decades behind the Europeans.

This is an important article that deals with the reconciliation of postmodernism relativism and the human need for belief -- the post-secular society will not be void of faith.

This article appeared in the fall issue of New Perspectives Quarterly.

Notes on Post-Secular Society

Jürgen Habermas, one of Europe’s leading intellectuals, is noted for such seminal works as Legitimation Crisis. He has long explored how “constitutional patriotism” might bind people together in community rather than the religious or national sentiments of the past. Of late, however, he has become concerned about the inability of post-modern societies in the West to generate their own values, drawing instead on the heritage of Judeo-Christian values as the source of morality and ethics. In this article, based on a lecture at the Nexus Institute at Tilberg University in the Netherlands last March, Habermas argues that modernity no longer implies the march toward secularism. In a democracy, the secular mentality must be open to the religious influence of believing citizens.

The controversial term “post-secular society” can only be applied to the affluent societies of Europe or countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where people’s religious ties have steadily or rather quite dramatically lapsed in the post-World War II period.

These regions have witnessed a spreading awareness that their citizens are living in a secularized society. In terms of sociological indicators, however, the religious behavior and convictions of the local populations have by no means changed to such an extent as to justify labeling these societies “post-secular” even though trends in these societies towards de-institutionalized and new spiritual forms of religiosity have not offset the tangible losses by the major religious communities.

Reconsidering the Sociological Debate on Secularization

Nevertheless, global changes and the visible conflicts that flare up in connection with religious issues give us reason to doubt whether the relevance of religion has waned. An ever smaller number of sociologists now support the hypothesis, and it went unopposed for a long time, that there is close linkage between the modernization of society and the secularization of the population. The hypothesis rests on three initially plausible considerations.

First, progress in science and technology promotes an anthropocentric understanding of the “disenchanted” world because the totality of empirical states and events can be causally explained; and a scientifically enlightened mind cannot be easily reconciled with theocentric and metaphysical worldviews. Second, with the functional differentiation of social subsystems, the churches and other religious organizations lose their control over law, politics, public welfare, education and science; they restrict themselves to their proper function of administering the means of salvation, turn exercising religion into a private matter and in general lose public influence and relevance. Finally, the development from agrarian through industrial to post-industrial societies leads to average-to-higher levels of welfare and greater social security; and with a reduction of risks in life, and the ensuing increase in existential security, there is a drop in the personal need for a practice that promises to cope with uncontrolled contingencies through faith in a “higher” or cosmic power.

These were the main reasons for the secularization thesis. Among the expert community of sociologists, the thesis has been a subject of controversy for more than two decades. Lately, in the wake of the not unfounded criticism of a narrow Eurocentric perspective, there is even talk of the “end of the secularization theory.” The United States, with the undiminished vibrancy of its religious communities and the unchanging proportion of religiously committed and active citizens, nevertheless remains the spearhead of modernization. It was long regarded as the great exception to the secularising trend, yet informed by the globally extended perspective on other cultures and world religions, the US now seems to exemplify the norm.

From this revisionist view, the European development, whose Occidental rationalism was once supposed to serve as a model for the rest of the world, is actually the exception rather than the norm—treading a deviant path. We and not they are pursuing a sonderweg. Above all, three overlapping phenomena converge to create the impression of a worldwide “resurgence of religion”: the missionary expansion; a fundamentalist radicalization; and the political instrumentalization of the potential for violence innate in many of the world religions.

A first sign of their vibrancy is the fact that orthodox, or at least conservative, groups within the established religious organizations and churches are on the advance everywhere. This holds for Hinduism and Buddhism just as much as it does for the three monotheistic religions. Most striking of all is the regional spread of these established religions in Africa and in the countries of East and Southeast Asia. The missionary successes apparently depend, among other things, on the flexibility of the corresponding forms of organization. The transnational and multicultural Roman Catholic Church is adapting better to the globalizing trend than are the Protestant churches, which are nationally organized and the principal losers. Most dynamic of all are the decentralized networks of Islam (particularly in sub-Saharan Africa) and the Evangelicals (particularly in Latin America). They stand out for an ecstatic form of religiosity inspired by charismatic leaders.

As to fundamentalism, the fastest-growing religious movements, such as the Pentecostals and the radical Muslims, can be most readily described as “fundamentalist.” They either combat the modern world or withdraw from it into isolation. Their forms of worship combine spiritualism and adventism with rigid moral conceptions and literal adherence to the holy scriptures. By contrast, the “new age movements” which have mushroomed since the 1970s exhibit a “Californian” syncretism; they share with the Evangelicals a de-institutionalized form of religious observance. In Japan, approximately 400 such sects have arisen, which combine elements of Buddhism and popular religions with pseudoscientific and esoteric doctrines. In the People’s Republic of China, the political repression of the Falun Gong sect has highlighted the large number of “new religions” whose followers are thought to number some 80 million.

Finally, the mullah regime in Iran and Islamic terrorism are merely the most spectacular examples of a political unleashing of the potential for violence innate in religion. Often smouldering conflicts that are profane in origin are first ignited once coded in religious terms. This is true of the “desecularization” of the Middle East conflict, of the politics of Hindu nationalism and the enduring conflict between India and Pakistan and of the mobilization of the religious right in the US before and during the invasion of Iraq.

The Descriptive Account of a “Post-Secular Society”—and the Normative Issue of How Citizens of Such a Society Should Understand Themselves

I cannot discuss in detail the controversy among sociologists concerning the supposed sonderweg of the secularized societies of Europe in the midst of a religiously mobilized world society. My impression is that the data collected globally still provide surprisingly robust support for the defenders of the secularization thesis. In my view the weakness of the theory of secularization is due rather to rash inferences that betray an imprecise use of the concepts of “secularization” and “modernization.” What is true is that in the course of the differentiation of functional social systems, churches and religious communities increasingly confined themselves to their core function of pastoral care and had to renounce their competencies in other areas of society. At the same time, the practice of faith also withdrew into more a personal or subjective domain. There is a correlation between the functional specification of the religious system and the individualization of religious practice.

However, as Jose Casanova correctly points out, the loss of function and the trend toward individualization do not necessarily imply that religion loses influence and relevance either in the political arena and the culture of a society or in the personal conduct of life. Quite apart from their numerical weight, religious communities can obviously still claim a “seat” in the life of societies that are largely secularized. Today, public consciousness in Europe can be described in terms of a “post-secular society” to the extent that at present it still has to “adjust itself to the continued existence of religious communities in an increasingly secularized environment.” The revised reading of the secularization hypothesis relates less to its substance and more to the predictions concerning the future role of “religion.” The description of modern societies as “post-secular” refers to a change in consciousness that I attribute primarily to three phenomena.

Go read the whole article.

Three New Books

Ah yes, book reviews. Like I need more books than I already have. But here are three books that look interesting.

[I hope to be posting a few personal reviews in the coming weeks, including a new book by Steve Pavlina and a new book by Richard Schwartz.]

* * *

Second-order Change in Psychotherapy: The Golden Thread That Unifies Effective Treatments
by J. Scott Fraser and Andrew D. Solovey
American Psychological Association, 2007
Review by Rosemary Cook
Oct 14th 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 42)
Research has determined that psychotherapy does indeed work. The question at hand now is "How does it work?" The authors of this book submit that the answer to this question has ramifications for all those involved in the practice of psychotherapy including professors, students, policy makers, insurance providers, and practitioners of all sorts. To answer the question the authors set out to provide a theoretical framework that cuts across all of the therapeutic approaches that have been empirically shown to be effective.

In the past, those claiming to answer the question of how psychotherapy works have polarized into two opposing groups. These are referred to as the "best practice" group and the "common factors" group. The best practice group argues for specific therapy protocols for specific therapy populations, whereas the common factors group maintains that a positive client-therapist relationship, among other factors, is most significant in issuing forth positive change in therapy. Since each side presents a compelling argument the authors were (themselves) compelled to find a unifying factor that each side might share.

Read the whole review.

* * *

The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World

Owen Flanagan, The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World, MIT Press, 2007, 288pp., $27.95 (hbk), ISBN 9780262062640.

Reviewed by Peter B. M. Vranas, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The primary objective of this book is to promote what Flanagan calls eudaimonistic scientia, or eudaimonics for short, namely the "empirical-normative inquiry into the nature, causes, and conditions of human flourishing" (p. 1). A secondary objective of the book is to show that eudaimonics can be pursued while adhering to naturalism, which Flanagan understands as reining in "temptations to revert to dualistic and/or supernaturalistic ways of speaking and thinking about human nature" (p. 3). Another secondary objective is to reconcile spirituality, which according to Flanagan contributes to human flourishing, with science, which according to Flanagan motivates naturalism. A third secondary objective is to show that one norm "that eudaimonics favors is that we ought to seek to flourish with the truth by our side" (p. 108), avoiding superstition and wishful thinking. And a fourth secondary objective is to defend eudaimonics against objections, including (1) the objection that eudaimonics tries to derive norms from facts and thus founders on the is/ought thesis, and (2) the "internalist objection" that eudaimonics cannot adjudicate between competing conceptions of human flourishing corresponding to different cultures. In what follows I examine some of the above objectives in more detail.

What are, according to Flanagan, the "nature, causes, and conditions of human flourishing"? I find it hard to answer this question, for two reasons. The first reason is that Flanagan uses a variety of terms apparently related to "human flourishing": he talks about "happiness" (p. 1), "well-being" (p. 50), "a good human life" (p. 38), "excellent human lives" (p. 167), "truly rich and meaningful lives" (p. 167), and "a life that really matters, that makes a positive and lasting contribution" (p. 1). With the exception of "happiness", which Flanagan tentatively sets apart (p. 245, n. 13), it is not clear whether Flanagan takes the above terms to be roughly synonymous; to make headway, I will assume that he does. The second reason is that what seem to be parts of the answer to the above question are scattered over the book; nowhere did I find a comprehensive summary. For example, concerning necessary or sufficient conditions for human flourishing (or for living meaningfully, and so on), Flanagan makes at least three kinds of claims. First, Flanagan says that "recent work in the field [of positive psychology] claims a comparative consensus on the virtues that are mandatory for eudaimonia" (p. 50): justice, humaneness, temperance, wisdom, transcendence, and courage. Second, Flanagan says that flourishing "can't be achieved unless fitness is" (p. 55), and seems to take the fulfillment of certain basic needs like "food, water, shelter, and sex" (p. 54) to be necessary for achieving fitness. Third, Flanagan says:

Meaningful human lives . . . involve being moral, having true friends, and having opportunities to express our talents, to find meaningful work, to create and live among beautiful things, and to live cooperatively in social environments where we trust each other. If we have all these things, then we live meaningfully by any reasonable standard. If we have only some of them, we live less meaningfully, and if we lack all these things, especially the first two, our life is meaningless. (p. 58)

It is not clear whether the claim that the virtues of wisdom and courage are necessary for flourishing is compatible with the claim that being moral, in conjunction with having true friends and so on, is sufficient for living meaningfully: why can't those who are not wise or courageous (but are not foolish or cowardly either) still be moral, have true friends, and so on? Similarly, it seems that lack of fitness makes being moral etc. hard but not impossible. Another worry is that, according to a standard that Flanagan mentions, being moral, in conjunction with having true friends and so on, is not sufficient for living meaningfully. This is the standard of making "a positive and lasting contribution" (p. 1): if my friends, family, and students (and their descendants) die and my work is irreversibly destroyed at the time of my death, I make no lasting contribution. Yet another worry is that arguably having true friends and living cooperatively are not necessary for living meaningfully: a hermit who proves what are, unbeknown to her, important mathematical conjectures can make a positive and lasting contribution (suppose her notes are found after her lonely death). The above worries are addressed in a large philosophical literature; oddly enough, Flanagan fails to engage with that literature.

Read the whole review.

* * *

Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life

Louise M. Antony (ed.), Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life, Oxford University Press, 2007, 315pp., $28.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780195173079.

Reviewed by George I. Mavrodes, University of Michigan

This book is a collection of twenty independent, freestanding essays, apparently all written especially for this volume. The twenty authors, all evidently professing atheists, are professional academic philosophers. Two of them work at British universities, and the rest are associated with American institutions. David Lewis, of Princeton University, died in 2001 (before finishing the paper included here). So far as I know, all of the other authors are still living.

This collection strikes me as an excellent example of how comprehensible philosophical writing can be at its best. By and large, the essays are written in a clear and direct style, free of philosophical jargon. Most of them can readily be understood, it seems to me, without requiring anything near a professional level of knowledge of the history of philosophy, or of technical logic, or anything of the sort. And many of the essays display a level of passion that is not common in academic writing. These authors, by and large, are writing about something that concerns them deeply. And I think that many who read it will find themselves also engaged at a level that is not merely academic.

Many Christians who read these essays (and I hope that many of them will read them) may find themselves recognizing a genre with which they are already familiar in Christian literature. A lot of these essays are, at least in part, personal narratives. They are "testimonials" -- how I became an atheist, what atheism means to me, what it's like being an atheist, how I get along without God, how atheism has improved my life, etc. And those of us who are on the other side of the table -- we Christians, or other theists -- may look to see whether we can recognize ourselves in the pictures that are here drawn of the religious life that some of these authors have left behind. It is useful to be reminded of the fact that atheists too have their testimonies, and their life stories

Some others of these essays, however, deal with more general topics -- the role of reason and rationality in an atheist or a religious life, the question of whether the available evidence favors atheism over belief in God, the prospects for morality without God, how thoughtful atheists and thoughtful theists can (or should) engage with each other on an intellectual level, etc. In this review I will deal mainly with a few papers of this latter sort. I am a professing Christian myself, so it will be no surprise if my discussion has a noticeable critical orientation. But I hope that I can avoid an unreservedly critical stance, and I would be glad if my comments here serve to whet an appetite for some of the interesting and provocative issues that come up in this volume.

Read the whole review. This is a lengthy review that I think spends too much time on a single contributor to the anthology, so take it for what it's worth.

Resveratrol in the News

Two new studies on resveratrol highlight possible benefits and a new food source.

From Science Daily:
Resveratrol Prevents Fat Accumulation In Livers Of 'Alcoholic' Mice

The accumulation of fat in the liver as a result of chronic alcohol consumption could be prevented by consuming resveratrol, according to a new study with mice. The research found that resveratrol reduced the amount of fat produced in the liver of mice fed alcohol and, at the same time, increased the rate at which fat within the liver is broken down.

Chronic alcohol consumption causes fat to accumulate and can lead to liver diseases, including cirrhosis and fibrosis of the liver. It can also result in liver failure. The study points to resveratrol as a possible treatment for alcoholic fatty liver disease, and as a way to prevent the disease in those who are at risk, but have not developed it.

Resveratrol is present in grapes, peanuts, berries and in red wine. Other research with mice has suggested resveratrol may have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. There is also evidence that it has cardiovascular benefits. However, these findings have not been extended to humans.

The study was carried out by Joanne M. Ajmo, Xiaomei Liang, Christopher Q. Rogers, Brandi Pennock and Min You, all of the University of South Florida Health Sciences Center, Tampa.

Activates cell signalers

The study builds on previous research, which suggests that alcohol inhibits two molecules that play a role in cell signaling and the breakdown of fats in the liver: AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) and sirtuin 1 (SIRT1). When alcohol inactivates AMPK and SIRT1, it allows fat to accumulate. Resveratrol does the opposite -- activating AMPK and SIRT1, and helping to clear out fat.

In this study, the authors wanted to find out more about how this happens, at the molecular level. They divided mice into groups and fed all of them a low-fat diet. Some mice had resveratrol in their diet, some had resveratrol plus ethanol (alcohol), some had ethanol alone and some had neither ethanol nor resveratrol. The researchers used two different dose levels of resveratrol. At the end of the experiment, they examined the livers of the mice.

The researchers found, as they had expected, that resveratrol treatment increased the expression of SIRT1 and stimulated the activity of AMPK in the livers of mice fed alcohol. They further found that the increased expression of SIRT1 and AMPK led to:

  • Reduction of sterol regulatory element binding protein (SREBP-1)
  • Activation of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma co-activator alpha (PGC-1α)
  • Elevation of circulating adiponectin, a hormone produced by fat cells, which helps control obesity
  • Enhanced expression of adiponectin receptors in the liver, which increases the effectiveness of the circulating adiponectin.

The findings suggest that resveratrol prevents alcoholic fatty liver by coordinating molecules that control fat metabolism. This prevents accumulation of fat in the mouse liver by both reducing the production of fat and burning off the fat that is there. Interestingly, the combination of alcohol with resveratrol appears to enhance the positive effects of resveratrol, said Dr. You, the study's senior author.

"Our study suggests that resveratrol may serve as a promising agent for preventing or treating human alcoholic fatty liver disease," the authors concluded.

Journal reference:

  1. Ajmo et al. Resveratrol alleviates alcoholic fatty liver in mice. AJP Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, 2008; 295 (4): G833 DOI: 10.1152/ajpgi.90358.2008
Adapted from materials provided by American Physiological Society.

The second article appeared on Eureka Alert, a clearing house for scientific press releases -- note the possibility of bias in that the research was done by the Hershey Company, makers of dark chocolate and cocoa products.
Resveratrol, red wine compound linked to health, also found in dark chocolate and cocoa

Hershey's Center for Health and Nutrition announced the publication of a study that shows resveratrol, the compound often associated with the health benefits of red wine, is also found in cocoa and dark chocolate products. In the September 24 edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists report that cocoa powder, baking chocolate and dark chocolate all have significant levels of resveratrol, a naturally occurring antioxidant.

"This study shows that the levels of resveratrol found in cocoa and chocolate products is second to red wine among known sources of resveratrol and forms yet another important link between the antioxidants found in cocoa and dark chocolate to other foods," says David Stuart, PhD, Director of Natural Product Science at The Hershey Company who partnered with Planta Analytica to conduct this study.

In the study, top selling retail products from six categories were tested for the level of resveratrol and its sister compound, piceid. The six product categories included cocoa powder, baking chocolate, dark chocolate, semi-sweet baking chips, milk chocolate and chocolate syrup. Gram for gram, cocoa powder had the highest average amount of resveratrol and piceid, followed by baking chocolates, dark chocolates, semi-sweet chips, milk chocolate and then chocolate syrup. In the products studied, the level of piceid was 3 to 6 times the level of resveratrol.

When the cocoa and chocolate levels were compared to published values for a serving of red wine, roasted peanuts and peanut butter, resveratrol levels of cocoa powders, baking chocolates and dark chocolate all exceeded the levels for roasted peanuts and peanut butter per serving, but were less than California red wine.

"Resveratrol gained widespread attention in the early 1990s when it was identified in relatively high amounts in red wine, which is associated with the French Paradox," says Debra Miller, PhD, Director of Nutrition for The Hershey Company. "Despite eating a diet equally high in saturated fat as the typical American diet, the French were shown to have about one-third the level of cardiovascular disease. Continued research indicates that moderate consumption of red wine, along with fruits, vegetables, nuts and lower amounts of red meat, may contribute to this lower risk of heart of disease."

According to a review article published this month in Nutrition Reviews, resveratrol, a naturally occurring antioxidant, was shown to improve insulin sensitivity, blood cholesterol levels and have neuroprotective actions in animal studies. Further, the article states, studies in mice indicate that diets high in resveratrol were associated with increased longevity..

"Cocoa is a highly complex natural food which contains in excess of seven hundred naturally occurring compounds, with many more yet to be discovered," explains Jeff Hurst, the lead chemist on the project. "For years, flavanols, a different class of compounds in chocolate, received most of the attention, but these are quite different than resveratrol. It is exciting to see additional antioxidants identified in cocoa and chocolate."

The results of the survey show that cocoa powder, baking chocolate and dark chocolate contain on average 14.1 to 18.5 micrograms of resveratrol per serving while the level found in the average California red wine is 832 micrograms per glass. Roasted peanuts have an average of 1.5 micrograms and peanut butter13.6 micrograms of resveratrol per serving, demonstrating that cocoa and dark chocolates are meaningful sources of resveratrol in the US diet.

I'm not ready to recommend that anyone get their resveratrol from chocolate, but dark chocolate, at a low dose, is healthy as a part of the diet, so have at it. The best source is still from supplements, where you get the benefits without the calories (or alcohol in the case of wine).

Daniel Seigel on the Mind

Daniel Siegel is a star of the neuroscience world, and a friend to Buddhists in his efforts to bring mindfulness into the therapy office.

Siegel is the author of several books on parenting and child development including The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being published in published by WW Norton in 2007, The Developing Mind: Toward a Neurobiology of Interpersonal Experience published by the Guilford Press in 1999 and Parenting From the Inside Out, which he co-wrote with Mary Hartzell in 2003 and was published by Tarcher.

Siegel is known for his work in Interpersonal Neurobiology which is an interdisciplinary view of life experience that draws on over a dozen branches of science to create a framework for understanding of our subjective and interpersonal lives. Source - The Developing Mind, (Siegel 1999). Siegel's most recent work integrates the theories of Interpersonal Neurobiology with the theories of Mindfulness Practice and proposes that mindfulness practices is a highly developed process of both inter and intra personal attunement. Source - The Mindful Brain (Siegel, 2007)

I've just begun reading The Developing Mind, a book that, in part, seeks to explain how attachment impacts neuro-development in children, and how interpersonal relationships also shape mental development and function.

Here is a nice series of passages from early in the book:
Because it reveals the connection between brain structure and function, current neuroscience provides us with new insights into how experience shapes mental processes. By altering both the activity and the structure of the connections between neurons, experience directly shapes the circuits responsible for such processes as memory, emotion, and self-awareness. We can use an understanding of the impact of experience on the mind to deepen our grasp of how the past continues to shape present experience and influence future actions. Insights into the mind, brain, and experience can provide a window into these connections across time, allowing us to see human development in a four-dimensional way (p. 2).

* * *
Interpersonal relationships may facilitate of inhibit this drive to integrate a coherent experience. Relationships early in life may shape the very structures that create representations of experience and allow a coherent view of the world: Interpersonal experiences directly influence how we mentally construct reality. This shaping process occurs throughout life, but is most crucial during the early years of childhood. Patterns of relationships and emotional communication directly affect the development of the brain. Studies in animals, for example, have demonstrated that even short periods of maternal deprivation have powerful neuroendocrine effects on the ability to cope with future stressful events. Studies of human subjects reveal that different patterns of child-parent attachment are associated with differing physiological responses, ways of seeing the world, and interpersonal relationship patterns. The communication of emotion may be the primary means by which these attachment experiences shape the developing mind. Research suggests that emotion serves as a central organizing process within the brain. In this way, an individual's abilities to organize emotions -- a product, in part, of earlier attachment relationships -- directly shapes the ability of the mind to integrate experience and to adapt to future stressors (p. 4).
So maybe Freud wasn't so far off in looking at the mother-child relationship in the psychological health of his patients.

The reality of the mind is that it is a social construct as much as it is a physiological and/or neurochemical construct. We need to learn to honor that truth.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

God's Words - The (unnecessary) Rise of the Spiritual Memoir

God's Words
The (unnecessary) rise of the spiritual memoir.

We live in an age of autobiography, one in which young writers cannot even bother to change people’s names to create a novel, in which a story being true is a greater virtue than being well written, or insightful, or interesting.

I have a few unyielding standards for a memoir: Either your book must be exceptionally written (a trait hard to find in memoirs these days) or you must have done something exceptional. You must have traveled to the underground or the heavens and come back with fire or golden apples or at least a little wisdom. It can’t just be, “Daddy hit me, mommy got cancer” — everyone has a sad story, and it is possible to go through a trauma or experience something significant without gaining any insight.

You would think that the spiritual memoir would be a stand out division — after all, if the writer has seen the face of God, he or she should probably get a good story out of that. For centuries, people have been telling stories about spiritual experiences, listing out their sins, telling tales of redemption and light at the end of a very dark tunnel. These past few years, however, have seen a crazy rush on the subject matter, with everyone who has ever thought about religion feeling the need to write about it. Approximately half the United States population will convert or adapt their religious beliefs at some point in their lifetime, which equals a lot of potential memoirists.

I suppose the thought process behind publishing these books is that since it’s in the air of our culture, those who are seeking will want to hear other people’s stories. But the same rules from other memoirs apply — just because you lived through something, that doesn’t mean you have anything interesting to say about it. Perhaps the bar is set too high by the original spiritual memoirist, St. Augustine. In his book, he had a great hook — "Give me chastity and continence, but not yet" — and managed to invent the concept of original sin. It’s not like a recent convert to, say, Judaism is going to top that.

Danya Ruttenberg never really fell from grace, she just sort of shrugged it off. She declared herself an atheist at 13, but not because a trauma shook the foundations of her life. She just found temple boring. “The bearded man at the front of the enormous room put his hands out, palms up, and raised them. We all stood on cue, like well-trained dogs… It was very irritating, having to keep standing up and sitting down like that. By the end of service, I could barely contain my contempt.” Ah, the teenage years. Rather than being embarrassed, Ruttenberg lays it all out for us — the social isolation, the Ayn Rand books, the revelations she experienced dancing at Goth clubs.

She builds herself up intellectually, feasting on philosophy, becoming involved in feminist matters, taking college level courses in high school. But when her mother dies, she finds solace in tradition and ritual. She begins to pray, and the concerns she had with religion begin to fall away. Suddenly the patriarchal tone isn’t stultifying; it instead evokes “the feeling of a small child looking to a parent for comfort and safety.” The question of who wrote the Torah — and the meanings behind the rules laid down — suddenly matter less and less. “God was in this book.” That is enough for her.

Read the whole article.

Satire - Was There Too Much Sex And Profanity In The HBO Presidential Debate?

Uh . . . .

Was There Too Much Sex And Profanity In The HBO Presidential Debate?


Posted at Rolling Stone -- the most devastating abortion ad I have seen, from either side.

A portrait in political suicide

Ouch! From this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer:
A portrait in political suicide

It was approximately 9:54 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, on the 15th of October, when John McCain set fire to his hair and took a hammer to his fading candidacy, smashing it to smithereens.

Until that moment in the final presidential debate, he had actually performed fairly well. He had played offense against Barack Obama without being offensive; in other words, he had basically hewed to the issues.

Here Polman details McCain's better-than-usual ability to stay with the actual issues. Admittedly, McCain looked more like the McCain I remember from 2000, rather than the cranky, confused old man I've been seeing of late. But then it all went to hell. He couldn't resist the urge to self-destruct.

But then, as the hour neared 10 p.m., his simmering cup runneth over. He took the bait. And he probably lost this election.

It happened shortly after moderator Bob Schieffer dangled Bill Ayres in front of McCain. Schieffer told him, "Your running mate said (that Obama) palled around with terrorists," and invited McCain to say it to Obama's face. For a couple minutes there, it appeared that McCain would let the matter rest, that he would not waste the viewer's time playing guilt-by-association. That would have been the smart move. McCain has been hustling the Obama-Ayres "link" for weeks now - Ayres, an extremist antiwar bomber back in the late '60s, served with Obama on several Chicago education projects during the '90s - and the more he tries to make it stick, the lower he sinks in the polls. The more that he and Sarah Palin try to paint Obama as a terrorist fellow traveler, the more Obama's favorability rating goes up. And if that wasn't enough to deter McCain from his doomed tactic, perhaps this item should have been persuasive: The latest CBS News-New York Times survey reports that 56 percent of Americans dismiss the Ayres link as inconsequential. Want to guess what percent of Americans view the Ayres link as a serious issue detrimental to Obama? Nine.

Unsolicited futile memo to McCain: People. Do. Not. Care.

And yet, in the end, McCain went for it anyway. It was basically a suicidal move, since most voters have already dismissed McCain as excessively negative . . . .
But it gets better -- Obama took McCain to the shed for a beating.

So he took the plunge: "I don't care about an old, washed-up terrorist. But...we need to know the full extent of that relationship." Whereupon Obama, who knew this moment was coming, proceeded to take McCain apart:

"Bill Ayers is a professor of education in Chicago. Forty years ago, when I was eight years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts. Ten years ago, he and I served on a board that was funded by one of Ronald Reagan's former ambassadors and close friends, Mr. Annenberg. Other members on that board were the presidents of the University of Illinois; the president of Northwestern University, who happens to be a Republican; the president of the Chicago Tribune, a Republican-leaning newspaper. Mr. Ayers is not involved in my campaign. He has never been involved in this campaign. And he will not advise me in the White House."

That was part one of the response. Note the fact that Ayres served on that board with a number of Republicans, none of whom seemed to be discomfited by Ayres' crimes nearly 30 years earlier. Obama also could have mentioned that Annenberg's widow is a current donor to the McCain campaign, and Obama could have mentioned that another McCain donor - Arnold Weber, a former officer at the Commercial Club of Chicago - also had no problem serving on a board with Ayres, but perhaps Obama wanted to get to the rest of his response. It came a few moments later:

"(T)he allegation that Senator McCain has continually made is that somehow my associations are troubling. Let me tell you who I associate with. On economic policy, I associate with Warren Buffett and former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker. If I'm interested in figuring out my foreign policy, I associate myself with my running mate, Joe Biden, or with Dick Lugar, the Republican ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or General Jim Jones, the former supreme allied commander of NATO. Those are the people, Democrats and Republicans, who have shaped my ideas and who will be surrounding me in the White House. And I think the fact that this has become such an important part of your campaign, Senator McCain, says more about your campaign than it says about me."

Obama accomplished a lot in part two. He essentially said that, while McCain wants to dredge up 1969, he prefers to talk about the people with whom he plans to associate in 2009. He even addressed the "inexperience" factor by naming some of the experienced people who will advise him. He hit the bipartisan theme by citing Dick Lugar. He hit the commander-in-chief theme by citing Jim Jones. And, in his final remark, he put the onus back on McCain.

That should have been the end of it. But no. McCain still wouldn't let it go. He had looked twitchy and jumpy from the opening minutes - and it was glaringly obvious when contrasted with Obama's cool - but his agitation seemed worse as he dug his hole ever deeper:

"Well, again, while you were on the board of the Woods Foundation, you and Mr. Ayers together, you sent $230,000 to ACORN. So - and you launched your political campaign in Mr. Ayers' living room...The facts are the facts, and records are records."

It went on like that a bit longer. But the thing is, the average swing voter doesn't know or care what the Woods Foundation is (nor did McCain tell them), and doesn't know or care about ACORN. The average swing voter knows and cares about the bills piling up on the kitchen table. And as for that line about how Obama "launched" his '95 state Senate campaign in Ayres' living room....McCain was lying again (a common occurrence lately, as I have repeatedly detailed). The actual fact is, Obama launched his state Senate run on Sept. 19, the Hyde Park Ramada Inn. Ayres did host a coffee get-together for Obama, but it was only one of many held in Obama's neighborhood.

The viewers apparently weren't any more impressed by this than Polman was, and the numbser show it:

But the early verdict is in already. CNN/Opinion Research Corporation reports this morning that, among debate-watching independents, 57 percent scored Obama the winner, and only 31 percent chose McCain. Over at CBS News, the pollster reported that, among uncommitted debate-watchers, 53 percent sided with Obama, and only 22 percent favored McCain. The GOP candidate's last major opportunity to reverse the dynamics of this race has now come and gone.

And so it goes.